Are you overwhelmed?
There are times when we all feel as if we’ve taken on too much and have no space for ourselves. It’s common to feel as though we’re not doing very well at anything when we’re stretched too thin, and we feel guilty that we’re letting down work, friends, family, and ourselves. Inevitably, we end up becoming irritable, if not downright angry, and many people find their health suffering. Sometimes existing illnesses flare up when we’re stressed, but we can also start noticing new aches and pains, intolerances, headaches, and tummy and bowel problems, for instance.
It’s all too easy to reach the stage where we’re worn out and under the weather when we allow stress to creep up on us. It’s important to continuously monitor how much stress we’re under so that we can adjust to what’s possible well before we start to feel it’s all too much. One way of doing this is to think about how much you can comfortably achieve in a typical day. Listing what you’ve done as you do it for a few days, with timings, can give you an idea of what’s possible compared with your expectation or to-do list. Most of us assume we’ll be able to do more than is possible, so it’s really helpful to look at what is quick and simple to get out of the way and which tasks are more complex. This exercise is also helpful to notice what tends to interrupt you and when this happens. It may be that you can organise your day so that you’re not deep in a task when something comes along to knock you off course. Once you realise what’s likely, you can change the order of your day to accommodate this.
It’s also important to notice how much time you waste in prevaricating. It’s understandable to put off daunting or unpleasant jobs but these are the ones to tackle first. It’s amazing how much better you can feel if you get horrible jobs out of the way first thing. As well as being able to congratulate yourself, the endorphin hit from getting the horrid chore out of the way will make you more efficient, and you won’t be so tempted to waste time avoiding what you have to do.
On the other hand, some people are perfectionists who can’t stop fiddling with their work, and will always be able to find more to do. You may need to strictly time yourself and create an ending or further commitment so that you can leave the job alone and allow yourself to finish. You need to think about the cost in time and personal well-being of extra checking and finessing. Tell yourself you can’t afford it and move onto the next thing.
Learn to say no
Some people make a big song and dance about everything they do and how difficult it is so that everyone congratulates them for the smallest achievement. Others of us keep our heads down and never make a fuss. Maybe we should. If you make your day look too easy, and are too accommodating, there will always be someone ready to take advantage. Many people think they’re storing up brownie points by martyring themselves, but in reality, nobody notices what everyone else is doing, and you’ll probably be very disappointed if you ever try to call in the favours. So, manage expectations!
This always feels worse for someone who has little or no support. It can be extremely isolating and lonely to feel you have no one covering your back, but you may appear to be coping so well that everyone turns to you for support rather than offering theirs. Many people who long for a helping hand are guilty of turning down assistance when it’s offered. Whether this is because they genuinely feel they don’t need it or because they believe they ought to be able to cope, you can deter people from offering if you never accept. Chances are, you’re offering to help other people - hoping to earn some reciprocal support - but you never cash in your good deeds.
It’s easy to become bitter and resentful while you wait for friends, family, colleagues or partners to become aware that you’re flagging. Neither patient waiting nor complaining generally make a difference. Nobody can read your mind, however much you think that what you want is obvious. You need to be specific about the help you want and make peace with yourself about taking it. Most people are pleased to be asked to help out, provided they know specifically what you want them to do. So, afterwards, be appreciative, and don’t tell them they didn’t do well enough or you really will put them off trying again. Other people aren’t you, so they’ll inevitably do things differently, and they may be learning as they go if they haven’t done something before.
Is everything you’re doing really necessary?
In any case, be honest with yourself about how important it is for you to do everything, and whether everything you’re doing is essential. It won’t hurt you to have beans on toast for supper now and again, or to skip a few elements of your routine. Look honestly at your workload and what you could delegate or get rid of. Are you hanging onto work that someone else could do or staying late to finish work you should either never have accepted or don’t need to be doing? It may be helpful to ask yourself honestly what bad thing you think will happen if you cut yourself some slack and start taking care of yourself.
Put yourself first
There’s no point in blaming others for taking you for granted if you don’t prioritise yourself. Unless you’re okay, you won’t be available for everyone and everything else you feel need you. Look objectively at your day and see where you could make more time for yourself. You should always have things to look forward to. This doesn’t just have to be events in the diary but can also just be everyday routine, like a tasty lunch, a hot coffee, reading or listening to music on your way to work, a few moments of mindfulness, time spent with friends, family or pets - whatever makes you feel better or relaxed.
It’s really important to work out what gives you pleasure, a sense of achievement, or relaxes you so that you can do more of those things and less of what is stressful. Be realistic about what you can fit in and then plan to do a little bit less than that, as you’re sure to find that extra tasks come your way however hard you plan. Remember too that it’s important to build some breaks into your day, and make sure you build in time for proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise - not to mention some fun!
Most of all, don’t feel you should be able to do everything alone or that you need to go the extra mile to be good enough. If you find it difficult to have this sort of respect for yourself, or you feel you genuinely aren’t coping, talk to your GP or a counsellor who may be able to help you during a particularly difficult time. We all have them, and it isn’t always possible to avoid an accumulation of stresses, but you can decide when you need to make changes to accommodate them all.